Breaking down the Best of the Big Ten Bowl Games
The dust has settled on the bowl games. No, the Big Ten didn’t perform too well, going 3-7 in 10 bowls. But there were some classic games, moments and performances. Here is my Best of the Bowls.
Best bowl: The Rose Bowl between USC and Penn State was … What’s the word I’m looking for? Take your pick between spellbinding, scintillating, fabulous, breathtaking and stupefying. It was an avalanche of points and yards, as the teams combined for 1,040 yards and 101 points in a back-and-forth game that featured myriad big plays. The cherry on top: A walk-off field goal to win it for USC after the Trojans rallied from a 14-point deficit to win, 52-49. Simply heart-stopping. At one point, Penn State scored on four consecutive offensive snaps. And the Nittany Lions also scored TDs on seven possessions in a row. Also have to mention the Orange Bowl between Michigan and Florida State, which also was sensational. There were many edge-of-the-seat moments in this instant classic won 33-32 by the Seminoles, as Michigan rallied from an early 17-3 hole. FSU QB Deondre Francois hit Nyqwan Murray for a 12-yard TD pass with 36 seconds left in the tilt on a third-and-nine. The winning TD was setup by a 66-yard kickoff return by FSU’s Keith Gavin, which came on the heels of Evans’ TD run.
Best rushing performance: Northwestern’s Justin Jackson ran wild in the Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pitt, rushing 32 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 31-24 win vs. the No. 23 Panthers, which was the only team to beat two Power Five champs this season (Penn State and Clemson). This was a grand way for Northwestern to end the season after it opened 1-3 with losses at home to FCS Illinois State and Western Michigan and needed to win its regular-season finale vs. Illinois to become bowl eligible. Have to mention Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, who ran wild in Pasadena in the Rose Bowl, carrying 25 times for 194 yards and two TD. And let’s tip our hat to Utah RB Joe Williams, who ran wild vs. Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl, carrying 26 times for 222 yards and a TD. A 31-yard run set up the Utes’ game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Best passing performance: Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs was excellent in a 38-24 win vs. Nebraska in the Music City Bowl. He hit 23-of-38 passes for 291 yards with a TD and led the team with 118 rushing yards and three TDs on 11 totes. But even that effort was overshadowed by USC QB Sam Darnold, who hit 33-of-53 passes for 453 yards, a Rose Bowl-record five TDs and a pick. And just think: Darnold is only a freshman. Could this guy one day be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft? From a Big Ten standpoint, Penn State’s Trace McSorley had a Rose Bowl to remember, hitting 18-of-29 passes for 254 yards with four touchdowns and three picks. He also ran for a score.
Best receiving performance: USC WR Deontay Burnett made 13 catches for 164 yards and three TDs in the Rose Bowl. In that same game, Penn State’s Chris Godwin was out of sight, making nine catches for 187 yards with two TDs. His 72-yard scoring grab was thrilling, as Godwin grabbed a batted ball out of the air and raced to paydirt.
Best special teams performance: Michigan’s Kenny Allen nailed all three of his field goals–with a long of 37—in the Orange Bowl.
Best defender: The Big Ten had many strong individual defensive efforts. Minnesota LB Blake Cashman had 12 tackles and a sack in the Holiday Bowl; Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards made 10 tackles (four solo) with an interception in the Cotton Bowl; Penn State LB Jason Cabinda made 11 stops (seven solo) in the Rose Bowl; Iowa LB Josey Jewell made 10 tackles (eight solo) with a sack and TFL in the Outback Bowl; Indiana LB Tegray Scales notched 10 tackles (six solo) with two sacks and three TFLs in the Foster Farms Bowl. But let’s give this honor to Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, who had 15 tackles (12 solo) with a sack and two TFLs in the Fiesta Bowl.
Best upset: It was stunning to see Ohio State lose 31-0 to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. It was the first time Urban Meyer ever had been shutout in his career. And it was the Buckeyes’ first shutout since 1993. But who envisioned Minnesota beating Washington State in the Holiday Bowl? Pretty much no one. The Golden Gophers were enveloped in turmoil after a player boycott threatened to keep Minnesota home for the bowl season. The issue was resolved but the Gophers trekked to San Diego minus 10 players, including two starters and two key reserves in the secondary. How would Minnesota respond vs. a Washington State squad that came into the game averaging 40.3 points and 497.6 yards? Just fine, thank you, holding the Cougars to 303 yards in what was the third-lowest scoring Holiday Bowl in the game’s 39-year history.
Best bad surprise: Michigan got rocked moments before kickoff when it was announced Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers would miss the game after tweaking a hamstring in a practice the day before. Peppers warmed up for the game but opted not to play. It was a physical and psychological blow for Michigan not to have its best player, who impacts in all three phases of the game. And in such a close game, you have to think Peppers would have made a difference.